The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

On Saturday night, Brian and I took a drive up North. We would go together but we would not spend the night together. Instead we would unite with total strangers to spend an evening none of us would ever forget. Welcome to pacing in Western States.

It was hard to get to sleep on Friday night. The next morning I would rise early to go and meet my runner at the Foresthill checkpoint. On your first try, it is next to impossible to finish that race, but I had every faith in Jack. He had trained hard and his mind and spirit were ready. I absolutely couldn’t wait to meet him.

Brian and I took off at 9am for our long car ride up to the school at Foresthill. He had also met a runner at the training run that he would be pacing named Tim. He was a strong contender too having finished multiple Ironman Triathlons. All in all it was looking good.

100 miles outside of Foresthill, the first phone call came. It was Jack’s wife Liz. “I am afraid I have some bad news,” she said. “Jack had to drop out at mile 30. It is his knee.” Not long after that we learned that Tim’s kidneys shut down during the race and he had to drop as well. Western States was really starting to be put into perspective.

On the site, there were many runners still looking for pacers, so Brian and I continued on to the checkpoint to volunteer our services to any runners in need of one. Around 9:30pm, we both found our runners. Mine’s name was Mike. He was a lot like Jack. The thing that I liked most about Mike is that although he was obviously in amazing shape, his body wasn’t built like a runner. Mike ran with his heart, which is I think the most important tool to conquer that race.

One of the cool things about Western States was the fact that here, 38 miles outside of Auburn, myself, a casting director in Los Angeles and a teacher from Alaska were somehow united for one night. We never would have met otherwise. We told stories, we laughed, we would run silently for hours upon hours but we did in fact have a night I am sure neither of us would ever forget.

Running at night was a challenge to say the least. About 4 miles into my journey, my foot hit a rock and I went plummeting down the hill. My leg was scratched but my left hand was in the worst shape. We trudged along to the next aid station and the medic took a look. “Well,” she said, “It does look like you need stitches.”

“Can I get them tomorrow morning?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “It must be within 12 hours.”

“Okay… what are the repercussions?”

“A big scar.”

“Cool!” I said. “Well, if you can patch her up, I will be on my way then.”

Oddly enough, I didn’t get a strange look. Being out here in the middle of the woods at 2am, she must get this too. A nice man took my hand. “This is going to hurt,” he said. He washed my cut with alchohol and began to dig into the gash for all the dirt, etc that had gathered inside. He bandaged me up and we headed back out into the darkness.

My favorite, and possibly most uncomfortable experience of the evening was the famous river crossing. I felt like I was at an amusement park as we reached the aid station, lit up in Christmas lights. We ran through it and down into the river that was lit by glowsticks. The river was high, but not too high to cross. One of the volunteers asked Mike and I how we knew each other. “Oh we just met.” I said. “But I think we are about to get into our first fight. I am not sure I know him well enough to get into this cold water yet for him!” The volunteers laughed as we forged the river and climbed up to the next aid station.

About 4 miles out from the finish line, we were greated by famous ultrarunner Tim Twietmeyer, out for his morning jog. “Good job!” he said to Mike. Then he turned to me “Keep him going, you guys are doing great.”

Crossing the finish line at Western States was an experience I will never forget. Mike and I hugged before he crossed and I veered off on to the pacers route. We planned to stay in touch, but unfortunately I lost him after the race. But there was Jack. His spirit was wounded and he had decided that he would never attempt another 100 miler. He bought me a WS100 jacket and hat for finishing.

I hope that Jack will one day change his mind and we will line up together at the start of Western States. Dean was kind enough to send an encouraging e-mail to Jack when I told him his story. In the words of Dean and Theodore Roosevelt “Your place shall never be among those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Anyone who took their place at the start line of that race IS a winner. I hope that he sees that one day. Now more than ever, I know that I must do this.

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